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Climate change is associated with greater frequency, duration, intensity and unpredictability of certain weather-related events, including floods. Floods harm mental health. There is limited understanding of the mental health and well-being effects from river flooding, particularly over the longer term and in rural contexts. This paper describes the rationale, aims, objectives, study design and socio-demographic characteristics of the sample for a study measuring associations between flood experience and mental health and wellbeing of residents (particularly those most likely to be negatively impacted and hard to reach) in rural NSW Australia 6 months following a devastating flood in 2017. To our knowledge, the study is the first of its kind within Australia in a rural community and is an important initiative given the likelihood of an increasing frequency of severe flooding in Australia given climate change.
A conceptual framework (The Flood Impact Framework) drawing on social ecological approaches was developed by the research team. It was based on the literature and feedback from the community. The Framework describes putative relationships between flood exposure and mental health and wellbeing outcomes. Within a community-academic partnership approach, a cross-sectional survey was then undertaken to quantify and further explore these relationships.
The cross-sectional survey was conducted online (including on mobile phone) and on paper between September and November 2017 and recruited 2530 respondents. Of those, 2180 provided complete demographic data, among whom 69% were women, 91% were aged 25–74, 4% identified as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander, 9% were farmers and 33% were business owners.
The study recruited a wide range of respondents and the partnership facilitated the community’s engagement with the design and implementation of the study. The study will provide a basis for a follow-up study, that will aim to improve the understanding of mental health and wellbeing effects over the longer term. It will provide an important and original contribution to understanding river flooding and mental health in rural Australia, a topic that will grow in importance in the context of human-induced climate change, and identify critical opportunities to strengthen services, emergency planning and resilience to future flooding.